The industrialized nations made a terrible mistake when they turned to the automobile as an instrument of improved urban mobility. The car brought with it major unanticipated consequences for urban life and has become a serious cause of environmental, social, and aesthetic problems in cities. The urban automobile:
- Kills street life
- Damages the social fabric of communities
- Isolates people
- Fosters suburban sprawl
- Endangers other street users
- Blots the city’s beauty
- Disturbs people with its noise
- Causes air pollution
- Slaughters thousands every year
- Exacerbates global warming
- Wastes energy and natural resources
- Impoverishes nations
The challenge is to remove cars and trucks from cities while at the same time improving mobility and reducing its total costs.
The urban automobile can only be supplanted if a better alternative is available. What would happen if we designed a city to work without any cars? Would anyone want to live in such a city? Does it make social, economic, and esthetic sense? Is it possible to be free of the automobile while keeping the rapid and convenient mobility it once offered?
Public transport is typically a disagreeable and slow substitute for the car. It needs to become a pleasant experience and should attain the average speed of a car in light city traffic. This can be achieved using proven technology, but densely-populated neighborhoods are a prerequisite for rapid mobility and economical public transport. Fortunately, dense cities can also offer a superior quality of life.
We should build more carfree cities. Venice, the largest existing example, is loved by almost everyone and is an oasis of peace despite being one of the densest urban areas on earth. We can also convert existing cities to the carfree model over a period of decades.
The design of cities is driven by three principal needs:
- High quality of life
- Efficient use of resources
- Fast transport of people and goods
The fulfillment of these needs in a carfree city gives rise to the following design standards:
Provide fast access to all parts of the city. In a city of one million it should be possible to get anywhere in considerably less than an hour. Passengers should never have to transfer more than once.
Both in consideration of time and of the limited mobility of small children, the elderly, and the infirm, nearby transport halts are required. The design standard is a five-minute walk.
Nearby Green Space
Green space should be available within a five-minute walk of virtually every front door.
Buildings should generally be limited to a height of four stories because higher buildings appear to be harmful to the people who must live in them. (See A Pattern Language for a detailed discussion of this point.)
Economical Freight Transport
City economies depend on fast, economical freight transport. A city which intends to keep trucks off its streets must make workable provisions for freight transport.
The carfree city can be built. Venice is proof enough.
The four billion inhabitants of the developing world seem eager to adopt Western patterns of car use. They should be advised of the costs and encouraged to think about better solutions. Can the planet carry the ecological burden? The developed nations cannot deny developing nations the use of technology and resources that are used in the developed nations. Since most of the world’s cars are found in the developed nations, they must take the lead in designing and building carfree cities.
Carfree cities probably must become the norm by the end of the 21st Century, due to energy constraints. We should begin now to prepare for the change, which is an opportunity to build urban environments superior to any ever known.
- Village Towns: A Safe Place to Raise Children
- December 28, 2014: Life Without Cars: 2014 Edition
- December 8, 2013: Life Without Cars: 2013 Edition
- December 27, 2012: Life Without Cars: 2012 Edition
- December 25, 2011: Life Without Cars: 2011 Edition
- December 19, 2010: Life Without Cars: 2010 Edition
- December 13, 2009: Life Without Cars: 2009 Edition
- December 21, 2008: Life Without Cars
With integrating the car into our lives we cannot live integrated lives anymore, and this way we lose our integrity. Or to summarize the task from the point of view of Wendell Berry:
Here we can see the radical nature of Berry’s vision. Our entire economy, our very culture of work, leisure, and home is constructed around the idea of easy mobility and the disintegration of various aspects of our lives. We live in one place, work in another, shop in another, worship in another, and take our leisure somewhere else. According to Berry, an integrated life, a life of integrity, is one characterized by membership in a community in which one lives, works, worships, and conducts the vast majority of other human activities. The choice is stark: “If we do not live where we work, and when we work, we are wasting our lives, and our work too.”